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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Joyous Solstice

At last the shortest day of the year - a time of celebration and good cheer. The sun is coming back - the days are getting longer - there is hope of spring again - though we have plenty of rain, wind and cold weather - it is quite different from a few years ago, when our world here in NW WA was covered in two feet of snow and more was coming down.

This is one of the favorite celebrations in our family - some might bake cookies - some are making art that reminds them of spring and sunshine - others are simply enjoying nature and thinking of the good things that have passed through our lives this past year.
Newgrange, in Ireland (Irish: DĂșn Fhearghusa) is one of the passage tombs in County Meath, one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world and the most famous of all Irish prehistoric sites.
Newgrange was built in such a way that at dawn on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, a narrow beam of sunlight for a very short time illuminates the floor of the chamber at the end of the long passageway. This light lasts for 17 minutes on the day of the Winter Solstice. There are many prehistoric sites around the world that are also engineered in this manner.
The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity. Many of the modern Christian Christmas traditions were taken from ancient Solstice celebrations, in an attempt to combine the pagan with their beliefs.
In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.
Yule log
A Scandinavian Yule tree - lit with candles.
Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a sprig given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew, with a golden sickle, and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe still has a special place in Christmas celebrations.
There are great traditions to build on and enjoy this time of year. A wreath is a good place to start - a symbol of the circle of a year. After making the wreath and making wishes for the coming year - it can be placed outdoors. After the new year the wreath can be recycled back to nature - or it can be saved and burned in the Summer Solstice bonfire.


If you like - add some pine cones spread with peanut butter and rolled in bird seeds - to welcome our feathered friends to our homes.



Making desserts is a great way to celebrate - and you could add birthday candles to the dessert - which often might have the shape of a sun on it. Each family member can light one candle and give a thankful thought about the past year - or a hopeful thought for the coming year.
Big fires in the fireplace - or burning candles if you are not so fortunate to have a fireplace - are both symbolic of the solstice celebration - calling to the sun to come back and shine stronger for a spring and summer of growing food.
Gift giving is a wondeful tradition on the Solstice - either opening one of the many gifts under the tree - or having special gifts in a basket to share with family and friends on this wonderful day.
And baskets of food are often taken to friends and family as part of the Solstice celebration. Don't forget some of those sunny cookies.

And of course singing is a great part of any Solstice celebration - Deck the Halls, and Carol of the Bells are two very significant songs sung at this time of the year. Reminders of our connection with nature and our connection of our past to our future.

We find many of our modern holiday celebrations come from variations of the ancient celebrations - bringing us all closer together, sharing our celebrations with one another.

Happy Solstice to all - I would love to hear about your Solstice celebrations.

12 comments:

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Interesting post! I've visited Newgrange in Ireland, and blogged about it years ago. It was a fascinating place to see! The chamber inside is very small so I wonder how the people allowed to be inside on Solstice are chosen? Enjoy this shortest day!

Snap said...

When I lived in New Mexico, we always put up our Christmas tree on the Solstice...bring on the light! Lovely post. Merry Merry to you.

eileeninmd said...

Happy Solstice to you! What a wonderful post on the various traditions.. I like the idea using the pine cones and bird seed. The cookies sounds yummy and the candles are pretty. Great post, enjoy your day and week ahead!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I had a very simple ceremony this year. I greeted the morning sunrise on my balcony with a cup of coffee and a mince tart!

Judith @ Lavender Cottage said...

A lovely post JoAnn to celebrate the Solstice and honour various traditions.
Thank you for linking to Mosaic Monday.
Merry Christmas.
Judith

Cathy Keller said...

Beautifully done post with wonderful pictures. The sun rose during Mass this morning so I guess I greeted it in celebration of the Creator. Wishing you the merriest of Christmases!!! Cathy

Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow said...

What a beautiful and informative post...just loved it and all of the photos as well. Merry Christmas to you and your family : ) I for one am happy to see that soon there will be more light in my days :)

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

You're such a wonderful writer my friend. I've enjoyed your posts about the different holidays and times of the month. Enjoy your holiday week! Hugs, Diane

Marigene said...

This is one of my favorites of your posts, JoAnn!
Love the collage at the beginning.
Merry Christmas!

Donna said...

Many ways to celebrate the seasons! Merry Christmas!

Kay said...

I've been to Newgrange twice. I love it there. To me it's one of the most beautiful and special areas in Ireland; the valley is filled with ancient ruins.
We celebrate the holidays on Solstice and started this tradition the first year we were together, 33 years ago. It's more meaningful to us.

ann said...

Loved the post. One of my life's best moments was a visit to Stonehenge on the summer Solstice. Perhaps I ought to head to Ireland next year. Now that would be a celebration.